The Humpback Whale

humpback whale

Many consider the humpback whale one of the most thrilling and captivating animals in the sea, and encountering them can certainly be a highlight of an Alaska inside passage cruise.

Their propensity to "breach" (break the water's surface at speed) more than any other baleen whale, their playfulness, and their singing make them a delight to observe. 

My own dedicated excursion experience (non-Alaskan) was fortunately an eventful one, with a small pod spending some time in the vicinity of our vessel, breaching, and yes, singing. Our vessel was equipped with an underwater microphone from which we could hear their songs.

There are different theories about the breaching and singing. Our excursion guide felt the breaching can often be part of a mating display. Other theories suggest both activities are types of communication or mere playfulness.

Whether we fully understand the songs or not, these, along with other behaviors like "bubble netting" are awe-inspiring (see video).

Some More Humpback Whale Facts

humpback whale

The pectoral fins of the humpback whale can be up to 1/3 of their body length (up to 15 feet), the largest of any whale. The tail can also grow to be 18 feet wide.

Females grow slightly larger than males with lengths reaching 60 feet and weights up to 25 to 40 tons (50,000 to 80,000 pounds; 22,000 to 36,000 kg). Newborns start at about 15 feet in length and 2000 pounds (900 kg).

Humpbacks can consume up to 3000 pounds (1360 kg) of food per day, their diet consisting of small fish, plankton, krill and other crustaceans.

They are migratory, travelling great distances (5000 miles, 8000 km) throughout the year. In the summer, to the benefit of Alaskan cruisers, their voyage takes them to the Gulf of Alaska. The winter sees them traverse to more tropical waters, where calves are born.

Newborn gestation lasts about 11 months. Newborn calves stay close under the affectionate and protective care of their mothers; fathers play no role in child-rearing.

Humpback whales often prefer shallow waters, especially when feeding and calving, which makes them so easily observable.

Their groups are called pods, and usually number from 2 to 15. (On our cruise there was a pod off the port side about dinner-time which some were estimating at close to 30.)

Humpbacks and all other baleen whales possess two blowholes.

So for wildlife lovers humpback whales are certainly a prime reason for choosing an Alaska inside passage cruise. They can often be seen from your cruise ship, however, the best way to increase your whale watching opportunities is to take a dedicated excursion at one of your ports. 

   

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